Loquacious is one of my favorite words in the English language. I am not necessarily a fan of loquacious people though. Part of the problem is, I am one of them. I tend to go on, as you’ll note by the length of many of my blog posts, and I don’t really know how to stop sometimes.
I used to be much worse. College tends to do this to you, as you learn to extend the length of your page-mandated papers by saying in three sentences what it takes to say in one. I did take a Business Communication class in college, which emphasized short sentences and constantly preached “as few words as possible.” At the time, I found the approach somewhat stupid. These short emails we drafted often seemed to be missing details and, whatever you made up for in your dearth of words was negated by the fact that an email only one person needed to see was CCed to 34 others.
As a speech nerd, a student of film criticism, and someone who tended to do well in writing classes, I thought I knew better. I marched into my first real world job as a Hollywood assistant, convinced that my ability to write clear script coverage was an indicator I may be wordy, but I was effective.
It took about three weeks before my boss called me in to her office. She couldn’t take it anymore.
“Jessica. We spend all day reading words, thousands upon thousands of them. You are one of the people I communicate with the most each day. You have to cut down how many words you use to talk to me.”
This was also followed by a rant about my MLA-induced habit of putting two spaces after a period (something that has since changed slightly in the MLA style guide, but at the time was still pretty universally taught). I thought this was my “Swimming with Sharks” or “The Devil Wears Prada” moment. My irrational boss making insane demands.
While I maintain my love of the two space period, I would painstakingly go through all my correspondence in that job and remove it after the fact. I would look at my sentences and take out unnecessary words and phrases. And I would dream of the day when I could stop.
Once I got out of Hollywood and went to grad school, I was free to be wordy me again. However, I now had freshmen students as part of the program. Freshmen students who turned in papers and assignments. Then I realized what my not-so-evil Hollywood boss was talking about.
I can only hope I was less transparent at lengthening my work in college than my students were. They could write the same sentence six ways, then turn it in on wide rule paper where the words never got within an inch of the margin or on typed paper in the absurdly large Courier font with two-inch margins.
This is also when my hatred for passive voice, the present perfect, and many other word verb tenses really took root. More words does not equal more communication.
One more time.
More words does not equal more communication.
“I checked the mail.”
This is a clear, concise sentence. Idn’t it purdee?
“I went to check the mail.”
This is two words longer than it needs to be.
“The mail was checked by me today.”
Do you see how this is basically a sentence written in reverse? It is like a tiny game of “Clue”. What is happening to the mail? Who did the checking? Was it in the billiard room?
Five years removed from grad school, I find I have become my Hollywood boss. She is right. We read all day, every day. As a result, my patience for wordy people wanes. I draft emails specifically asking for yes and no answers. I get novels in return. They are not even novels that answer my question. Much like my students at IU, they are novels trying to dodge the fact they don’t know the answer or know I don’t like what they have to say.
As the old-fashioned senior citizen on the inside that I am, I long for the days of paper. I enjoy the convenience of ease and email. I agree that it encourages literacy and reading on a level we haven’t seen in a couple of generations. However, the great thing about paper and pens is that they are finite resources. When you draft a letter or a newspaper column, they are very real and physical space restrictions that get you to think about what you are going to say.
As a result, we don’t bother to think before we word spew all over everything. As my friend Dave wisely pointed out, even though you are writing less words, until you train yourself otherwise, it takes more time to be less wordy. And time being a precious commodity, laziness kicks in and effective communication falls by the wayside.
As this increasingly lengthy post will attest to, the internet has space in spades. Other than title and SEO description limits, there are very few restrictions on length or character limit. That doesn’t mean that we need to get biblical in our post length though.
The more you say, the less I hear it. Be direct. Be concise. And remember that space on the internet may be an endless resource, but a person’s time is still finite and precious. Respect it.